A family restores its legacy 1950s boat brand.
In 2013, after a five-year search, Cheryl Ahlcrona finally found the boat she’d been searching for. Seeing the 1956-vintage Crona Craft runabout for the first time brought her to tears. It was an emotional experience, because that boat was one of a limited (and ultimately unknown) number of Crona Craft boats, a long-forgotten brand manufactured—for just one year—by her late father, Edgar Ahlcrona.
Cheryl Ahlcrona, who grew up in Shorewood, is a board member of the Excelsior–Lake Minnetonka Historical Society. Her father owned Tonka Bay Boat Works, later renamed Tonka Bay Marine, from 1947 through 1972, and manufactured Crona Crafts.
Edgar and his brothers Robert, Richard and Bertil had bought the boat works together; Edgar gradually bought out all of his brothers’ shares in the business and became the sole owner and president. In 1956, the Ahlcronas contracted with the Higgins Boat Company of New Orleans to build the 14-foot outboard runabouts, made of solid mahogany and chrome. That was the only year they were made.
As teenagers, Cheryl and her sisters spent summers working in the Boat Works office with their grandfather, Nils. Edgar sold the marina in 1972 and became a sales rep. He was killed in a car accident in 1974, on his way to a boat show in Illinois.
As adults, Cheryl Ahlcrona and her siblings knew “absolutely nothing” about the Crona Craft boat company, because their father never talked about it, she says. She became curious after finding a batch of metal serial number plaques, meant to be mounted to the inside of each boat, that her father had left behind. She also found an old brochure giving a little more info.
Her father’s last surviving brother, Robert, remembered taking them out on test-drives from the marina and around Big Island. He also designed the advertising brochure for the brand and had saved pictures of the boats, which were proudly displayed in front of the show room.
In the summer of 1997, Ahlcrona and her husband, Carl Floren, purchased a cabin on Lake Mille Lacs from her uncle Richard.
Richard also gave them an original Crona Craft, which he had planned to restore, but never got around to. But the boat wasn’t in great shape; they decided it was suitable only to provide parts for other restoration projects. But she wanted to get a usable one. So she started her online quest to find one for sale.
After spotting a Craigslist ad, Ahlcrona bought a still-lakeworthy Crona Craft boat and its trailer for $2,200, from a Stillwater man who had kept it in his garage. The boat wasn’t in bad shape, except that its previous owner had covered its wooden hull with fiberglass. Ahlcrona is trying to decide what to do with it. “I’m afraid that if I take the fiberglass off, it is going to be in pretty rough shape,” she says.
Ahlcrona’s brother-in-law, Dennis Trooien, has also acquired a ’56 Crona Craft, which he found in Brainerd through a Craigslist ad. Stored in a barn, the boat showed plenty of wear and tear, but about 80 percent of it was structurally sound, Trooien says. At his White Bear lake home, he’s beginning the process of replacing the mahogany bottom and decking, replacing a broken window, and re-chroming parts.
“I’m sure it will take a year,” Trooien says. Visualizing the end product should keep him going through the painstaking process until the “new” craft is finished and the family can once enjoy their dad’s legacy out on the water.